THE ART OF
SEEING FOR BETTER PHOTOGRAPHS
Arnold John Kaplan, APSA-AFIAP
are the windows of the world around you. They are miraculous objects that allow you to
observe the things before you. How many people taking pictures actually use their eyes
correctly? In photography they are a tool of the trade and just as important as your
camera and lenses.
You must learn how to combine your cameras lens with your eyes and make them act as
a single unit to make the camera take images of what you see.
This ability to find and photograph interesting subjects correctly is called:
THE ART OF SEEING
Millions of people have cameras but how many of them really use their eyes to take
pictures. Most of them just point the camera, look through the viewfinder just to make
sure something is in the viewfinder and press the shutter release, usually with a jerk and
hope for the best. They have no idea of what is going to be in the picture besides the
objects they looked at.
The serious Amateur and Professional Photographers will use their eyes to view the scene
objectively. They will examine it for the best way to photograph it before they even look
through the cameras viewfinder. They know they must observe all the important things
in the scene and eliminate any objectionable items that will spoil the beauty or intent of
The Art Of Seeing will make you aware of these things and when you look
through your cameras viewfinder you will THINK before you take the picture.
Next time you are at a place that has pictorial possibilities dont start taking
pictures at once. LOOK AROUND FIRST. Take a few moments to examine the complete
photographic scene and situation. Walk around to find the best possible Angle to shoot the
scene. Find your Main Subject or Center of Interest.
Watch for disturbing items in the Foreground and Background. Keep your eyes open to
prevent people from walking into the view of the camera and spoil the image. All these
things will become automatic as you learn them.
CENTER OF INTEREST:- The most important thing is to have something of interest in
your photograph. Something your eye will go to, something to hold the eye in the picture
area, once the eye gets in to the picture.
It can be a
person, an animal, a building, a design of nature or anything that interests you can be
your Center Of Interest. However, you should have only one main object, idea, thought or
theme message in the picture to keep the eye interested. above all try to keep is simple
as the eye will get confused and tired if the main subject is too busy.
If there are two interesting items in the picture area try to make one of them a little
more dominant than the other. Make sure that the dominant one is more important than the
less dominant one, otherwise the eye will be obligated to reject both of them as being
Once you get the eye in the picture area you want to keep it in there to move around and
enjoy the photograph. In order to do that you have to have eye stopper to prevent the eye
from going out of the picture frame. A large tree on the right side of the picture frame
will keep the eye from going out on that side.
Some nice interesting clouds in the sky area will prevent the eye from going out of the
top and something in the bottom foreground will block that area. Try to keep the left hand
area of the picture frame clear as that is where the eye will try to enter the picture
most of the time.
LOOK AROUND FIRST:- When you come upon something that interests you, STOP
and LOOK AROUND. Dont start shooting at once, unless it is a grab shot or
something that will not stay still. If the subject matter will be there for awhile hen you
must take your time and look for the best lighting, best angle and the best center of
THE WAITING GAME:- Photography is a Waiting Game. You are waiting for
things to happen so you can take good photos. If nothing is happening there are no good
photo opportunities. You have to be very patient and wait at a scene, or place for
something to happen that will make your photograph. Sometimes it may take hours or days
but the good photographer will stick it out to get the picture.
They call this the Decisive Moment or the exact split second that the event
happens and you have to be ready to snap the shutter to catch the action. Some of the most
famous photographs were taken by French street photographers who took the first candid
photos in the early 1900s and those photos are still published and exhibited all
over the World.
A FIGURE IN THE SCENE:- It always helps to have a figure in the scene for several
reasons. It gives scale to out door scenics. Without the figure you could not tell how
tall the trees. mountains or buildings were. The figure adds interest as you want to know
and see what the figure is doing. The figure does not have to be human, it could be and
animal that is familiar to you.
The human figure can add color to the scene by wearing brightly colored clothing, thus
making it an eye catcher to hold the eye in the picture frame.
LEAD THE EYE INTO THE PICTURE EASILY:- This is one of the most important rules in
photography. The eye will go into the picture area at the lower left hand corner most
every time. This is because we have been taught to read from left to right.
Since this is a fact you should always try to keep the left side of the picture area open
and clear of anything that will block the eye from entering in that area. If you place a
tree if the extreme left area of the picture it would block the eye from getting into the
picture easily and the eye would have to look around for another way to enter the picture.
It may get confuse or tired and lose interest in the photo.
Leading lines help the eye to get into a picture but make sure the leading line is on the
left side of the picture frame. If it is on the right hand side of the picture you will
find that the eye will pick it up in the picture and follow it right OUT of the
Leading lines can be many things. The most common are roads, paths and rivers. However,
many other items can make leading lines: a heavy rope from a ship to the dock, a
breakwater made of rocks, a line of boats, cloud formations, animals or people in a line,
a row of flowers, the Suns rays or a rainbow. All these constitute leading lines for
the eye to follow.
LIGHT:- The best light for taking a dramatic photograph is early morning or late
afternoon. This light is called the Golden Light and it only occurs right
after sunrise or just before sunset. It is a warn Orange-Yellow light that gives a Golden
Glow to everything it touches. It has the quality to change ordinary scenes in to
beautiful golden vistas that the professional photographers are
always looking for.
The Kodak instruction book tells the Public picture snapper to take their photographs
between 10:00am and 2:00pm because Kodak film is made for this Cold Blue Light that comes
down from the sky between these hours. Good photographers know they should avoid taking
any scenic photographs between 10:00am and 2:00pm because they dont want the cold
blue light in their images.
Good photographers know they should take outdoor photographs BEFORE 10:00am and AFTER
2:00pm to get the warm yellow-orange light needed for better images. They know, in
order to get the nice Golden Light, they have to be all set up and ready to
shoot, as this Golden Light only lasts a short time
GET IN CLOSER:- Many a Main Subject was lost in the picture area because you were
too far away, so get in closer and fill the frame with the Main Subject material. This may
not be easy if there are obstacles in the way, such as a body of water, a highway, a deep
In these cases you will have to use your telephoto lenses to bring the Main Subject closer
so it can be seen clearly in the picture frame. A telephoto lens should be powerful enough
to do the job. Today many of the Zoom lenses have the power to do the job. A great Zoom
lens is the 28mm to 200mm. With this one lens you will be able to cover most any situation
from scenics to sports. It allows you to travel light as this lens takes the place of
several fixed lenses.
LOOK FOR THE RIGHT ANGLE:- The snapshooter will arrive on a scene and start
shooting at once without any thought of finding the best spot from which to take the
picture. The photographer will arrive at a scene and will Stop, Look Around and Walk
Around to find the best spot (angle) from which to take the picture. A good
photographer will not only stop to look and walk around but will check the lighting
conditions and if necessary wait around until the light is right.
WATCH TH LIGHT AND SHADOWS:- Once you find the best angle to shoot the
photo be sure to watch out for the light and shadows. Dont let your Main Subject of
Interest be in a shadow area or you will lose most of the detail in the shadows. Watch out
for clouds passing over the Sun just as you snap the shutter as that condition will make
your scene and picture Dull looking as most good scenics need bright Sunlight.
Remember, you need early morning or late afternoon Golden Light to make a successful
You can also use the Clouds and Sun to spotlight your main subject of interest. That is
have the Sun come through the clouds and light up and spotlight the Main Subject only.
while the rest of the scene is dulled down in the shadows created by the Clouds. This type
of lighting is unusual and makes great photographs especially if there are very dark storm
DIVIDING A PICTURE IN HALF:- This is a real, honest to goodness, NO, NO in
photographic composition. Good photographers NEVER divide a picture in half unless
it is done for some special effect or a darn good reason.
If you are photographing a scene with land area and sky area keep the land
and sky masses uneven. Either have more land area and less sky area, or more sky area and
less land area, depending upon the scene.
When the sky is un-interesting and just plain blue, without any white, clouds it is
considered as bald as a plain white sky. Under these conditions you should
show less of the sky area and more of the land area.
COME BACK AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN:- You may have to come back to a picture area
again and again to catch the Main Subject under the best lighting conditions depending on
the time of year. Remember good photo spots and come back again and again to shoot them
when the light is right.
BUSY, BUSY, BUSY:- A photograph can be ruined by being too Busy by having too many
things going on in the picture frame. If you have too many centers of interest in
one picture it makes it too confusing to the eye and the eye will get tired as it will
have no place to stop to enjoy the picture. It is not only too many objects that can spoil
a picture, it can be too many colors also. A lot of color, such as a hillside
of colorful fall foliage, is the same as no color to your eye as it has no
place to stop and enjoy the image.
If that same hillside of colorful fall foliage had a farm house or barn among the trees,
then the center of interest would change to these objects and the colorful trees would
just add to the scene. Avoid very busy subject matter if possible. If you cannot, try to
find one object in the scene that you can make stand out more than all the other objects
to become your Center Of Interest.
ELIMINATE DISTURBING OBJECTS:- Such as telephone wire in the sky area; vapor trails
from Jet airplanes; snowmobile tracks in fresh fallen snow; a snow covered country road
that has been plowed: messed up of disturbed snow after a snow fall; tree branches and
roof tops without any snow in a snow scene.
These types of disturbing situations should be avoided by changing your angle of view,
time of day or come back again when conditions are good.
These are small things a successful photographer knows to lookout for before taking the
picture. If you did not take the time to check the scene you will be wasting a lot of
money on film that will not produce good or salable photographs. The photo judges or
editors know what to look for in a successful image and if they find any of these boners
they will reject the photograph.
FOREGROUNDS:- This area is one of the most important parts of the picture frame. It
is the first thing you see when you look at a picture and should be free and clear of
anything that is disturbing.
Here are some of the things that can be found in the foreground area of a photograph that
will ruin the image, unless you have a reason for it to be there: beer or soft drink cans,
bottles, newspapers, rubbish, or other small items dropped or thrown into the picture
The Foreground is the welcome mat of your photograph and you must keep it clean and
beautiful. The good photographer will check the foreground very carefully and remove any
disturbing objects before the picture is taken. Sometimes you may have to add items to the
foreground to make a successful photo such as leaves or snow on a bare road in a Fall or
People can also mess up your Foreground by walking into the picture area just as you press
the shutter release cable. The resulting image may show someones arm, leg, head of
half a body coming in or going out of the picture frame. Keep your second eye open to
prevent anyone from coming into your picture area. Either wait for them to pass by or ask
them to stop until you take
BACKGROUNDS:- Keep your Backgrounds as neat and clean as you can. Watch
out for hot spots, very bright spots of light coming through the trees as
these will attract the eye away from the center of interest and become very annoying.
Backgrounds can also have tin cans and bottle so you have to keep your eyes alert for
anything that does not look right. Also watch out for passing autos, bike riders, joggers,
people walking, etc. as any one of these things can ruin the image.
BALD SKIES:- Bald heads like bald skies have something missing. A bald sky usually
is an uninteresting sky without clouds, sunrise or sunset. Even a plain bright blue sky
can be considered as bald, as it is not interesting. The worst type of bald sky is the
plain white sky caused by high clouds.
run into any of these Bald Sky situations it is better not to include the sky in the
picture if you can. If you have to include a bald sky try to find a tree branch or
anything else and use it to block out part of the upper section of the sky. In other
words, Frame, the picture with the tree branch to cut out part of the
uninteresting sky. You will find you can save many photographs by using this method
FRAME IT:- One very successful way of making a photo more interesting is to Frame
It. Not the regular solid picture frame around the photograph when you hang it on a
wall but a method of Framing the picture at the time it is taken.
Framing is when you shoot through a doorway or window and have part of the doorway or
window around the picture area so that it will Frame the image. You can use a
standing tree with a overhanging branch as a Frame in scenic photos. Many
things can make up the Frame and they will add interest to the picture.
HORIZONTAL OR VERTICAL FORMAT:- Some subjects will look better in the Vertical
Format so dont be afraid to turn your camera around and shoot vertical
photographs. In fact if you plan to sell photographs, remember the page of a book or
magazine is in the Vertical Format and publishers want pictures to fit this
The Horizontal Format is use most of the time by people using a camera because
it is the natural way to hold the camera. In fact some people do not know or realize that
you can turn the camera around to the Vertical Format. Most pictures taken
today are in the Horizontal Format and many scenes fit this format perfectly.
Any wide scenic should be taken in the horizontal format. A group of people fits the
horizontal format but a singe portrait should be taken
in the Vertical Format.
REVERSE IT:- Dont be afraid to take a picture that has an object on the wrong
side of the picture frame. When you have a print made you can ask the photo lab to reverse
the negative as long as it does not have any printing in the scene. A color slide can be
reverse in the projector to show the image the way you envisioned it.
THAT EXTRA TOUCH:- Always be on the look out for that Extra Touch in a
scene, something out of the ordinary that will add oomph to the image. A
seagull flying through a bald sky will add that Extra Touch. A farm scene with
cows coming home adds to the picture. A babys smile and twinkle of the eyes makes
the picture worthwhile. In sports photography, if you catch a
decisive moment you added that extra touch.
USE THE RIGHT FILM:- Think a little before you buy your next roll of film.
Different color slide films give different results so take the time to test various slide
film to get exactly what you want. Film for prints (negative film) are not as critical as
color slide film. The color in color prints depends on the lab operator. You
can send the same color negative to three different color labs and the three prints you
receive back will be different as to color quality.
by Arnold John Kaplan, APSA-AFIAP
All Rights Reserved